The other night I had a class with one of my advanced adult students. He works as a smart phone app game designer in downtown Hiroshima and loves anything old-school or related to his childhood. I had been looking for an interesting article we could discuss during the lesson and so it was that I stumbled on one from the Wall Street Journal. It was about Lego and the adults who have quit their high-paying jobs to build models for the company. Rest assured though, that they now get paid more for one piece than they would have made at their previous job in a quarter of the year!
After reading the article we started talking about the toys we had played with when we were growing up. The more we talked, the more memories of long-forgotten toys came flooding back. I wasn’t even sure if half of these toys still existed.
We lamented the fact that with so much new technology, kids were more likely to play with a smart phone or an iPad than they were with a physical toy. Toys like Grip-ball or mini or putt putt golf were clearly outside pursuits and we both felt half the kids today barely saw the outside world because they were so focused on the computer screen in front of them. It was sad, we both agreed.
I explained about the spirograph and showed him the wonderful patterns that such a simple tool could make. We sighed about kalidoscopes and the beautiful colours that seemed to magically appear with each twist of the top. Then we moved onto card collecting and the different types of ones that had been popular at some time or another. I suddenly remembered my friends Luke and Shane being obsessed with Garbage Gang cards and how they had spent lunchtimes swapping ones they had in double or sometimes triplicate. And who could forget ant farms? I remembered preparing sand and soil for the narrow plastic containers and then scrambling on the ground trying to catch the poor creatures to fill the ‘city’ I had made for them.
Ah yes and of course, there was the Tamagochi. I was now living in the birthplace of this toy and we both wondered if somewhere in Japan they still existed. Perhaps now they were available as an app instead. I told him how I had tried to ‘feed’ mine during class at school for fear that it would starve to death and I would have to start all over again. I’d been immensely proud when my kitten grew to full size and was approaching the grand old age of 30 when my friend thought it would be funny to kill it by not cleaning up its poop. I was so angry with her that I didn’t talk to her for days. I also cried, but only in the privacy of my own room. How had I become so attached to something that wasn’t even real?!
We finished the lesson with faraway looks in our eyes and dreamy-smiles on our faces. It didn’t matter whether or not these toys still exist or not, they were preserved in our memories and no one could ever take them away from us.
I long for children today to have the chance to play with toys like this, to extract the same simple pleasure that I did. Yes, the technological age that we live in has created some amazing toys: physical, virtual or digital, but I can’t help thinking that these are simply objects, devoid of any type of soul. Do children today feel the same connectedness with their toys that my generation did with ours? Or are they easily abandoned, discarded like rubbish when something new and more advanced comes along? Maybe it’s time to introduce the generation of tomorrow to the childhood toys of generations past. Who knows…perhaps we’ll start a nostalgic revolution.